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Panel 2

A teenage soldier's story

Like many of his friends, Sergeant Lawrence Moore got ensnared in Liberia's civil war without stopping to think much about why. With children all over the country enlisting in militias, when he was 15 it just seemed the thing to do.

With the war over, Sgt. Moore, who gives his age as 20, entered Monrovia, the capital, for the first time. He rode in from the bush with his leader....

Strangely, though, for Sgt. Moore, like so many teenage fighters, their triumphal return to the capital has turned into a story of loss. Gone are the carefree years of adolescence. Gone, too, is the sense of purpose, even amid the horror, of the warrior's life. But most of all, gone is any sense of hope about the future.

Photo: A gun-carrying boy soldier is watched by other children in the Liberian town of Bong Mines. ©

Unschooled and inarticulate, [the] young fighters rarely seem clear about why they joined the militia in the first place. One young fighter told of how [his militia] had killed his family... "But I joined them because they are the best."

Sgt. Moore, too, joined. "The first time I was sent to the front, I was so happy, because I found so many of my friends there...."

Like those earlier fighters, Sgt. Moore readily admits his impressionability. Wounded in the hand and foot in his very first combat, he told of how awed he had been to be taken to a field hospital for a week's treatment, a sign that for once he truly belonged to something....

Sgt. Moore, who was quickly sent back to the front, says, "We were losing a lot of men, but we killed a lot of them too, plenty. One night, one of my friends died right in front of me," he added. "I felt very bad, but I never stopped fighting. I said to myself, this is war."

As with so many other questions, when asked how many people he had personally killed, the young man with the gentle face said he didn't really know. "I killed so many on the battlefield, but never any civilians," he insisted. "When I killed my enemies, it felt good. But right now, I pray God to forgive me...."

Suddenly idle in Monrovia, with no clothes or money, another young fighter spoke with bitterness about how his leader's teenage son was already flying around town aboard a shiny motorcycle, while top officials already seemed locked in a best-dressed contest that mirrored their frenetic jockeying for power.

"When I think of the five years I spent in the bush, killing people and being shot at, I feel pretty stupid," the soldier said. "We were giving our lives for people who by tomorrow won't remember how they got where they are...."

That evening, the boy soldier, who was apparently being tailed by informers, was arrested. A payment secured his release and [a] reporter gave him some cash to flee the city. Asked what he would try to do, he answered with the only thing life so far has taught him. "My mother is in the United States," he said. "I will try to get to the United States and become a US marine." —by Howard W. French

Copyright © 1995 by The New York Times Company. Used with permission.

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